Palestine’s first-ever eco-tourism conference which took place yesterday focus on finding ways to protect Palestine’s unique natural heritage while sustainably tapping its economic and social benefits.
The varying geography and climate are represented by the Mediterranean Sea, the long shoreline of Gaza, the Jerusalem mountains, the eastern slops and the Rift “Jericho and El-Gour” Valley. Within a small area the biodiversity is truly astounding: more than 2,720 plant species “Flora Palaestina” and around 520 bird species reside or migrate through this compact ecological area. Many avian species journey all the way from Africa to Europe through small land bridges in the south and centre of Palestine. In addition, more than 70 species of mammals and thousands of other insects, reptiles and amphibians are represented in this compact but diverse stretch of land. Palestine is a land of immense natural beauty and diversity. However, conflict, climate change and environmental stress has placed Palestine’s natural heritage under enormous threat.
This requires the redoubling of conservation and protection efforts, as encompassed in Palestine’s commitments to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In this regard, eco-tourism can help conserve Palestine’s unique natural environment while creating economic and social opportunities. “ Palestine Wildlife Society - Birdlife Palestine PWLS is a pioneer in the ecotourism work as they trained around 40 tour guides and community based tour guides and now they are organizing the first ecotourism conference in Palestine. Furthermore, they look forward to initiate a diploma program for teaching ecotourism,” said Imad Atrash Executive Director of the PWLS.
Under the auspices of Palestine’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Rula Ma’ayaa, the first-ever Palestinian Eco-Tourism Conference took place yesteday at the Ush Ghurab Garden in Beit Sahour. "Eco-tourism has a deep impact on the outreach to villages and towns، usually off the traditional tourism track, and is a primordial leverage tool in the vast array of tourism diversification" said Rola Maayah Minister of Tourism and Antiquities.
National and international experts, Palestinian government officials, academics, and civil society actors discussed, in a number of dedicated sessions, the various aspects of Palestine’s evolving capacities in eco-tourism and how this can be accomplished while protecting Palestine’s rich but fragile natural heritage.
It has been agreed that ecotourism is a vital sector and has to be dealt with on a national scale. Some local and global organizations have focused their activities on this topic. Some sites in Palestine have been selected to be models for these new concepts that combine cultural heritage and nature, such as the Jerusalem wilderness, St. Saba Monastery (Bethlehem), Masafer Bani Naeem (Hebron), Wadi Qilt and the Monastery of St. George and the city of Jericho.
Through ecotourism, the Palestine Wildlife Society aims to promote the sustainable use of natural and cultural values of Palestine’s heritage sites, to help in the conservation and monitoring of these sites, to build up the local capacity for conservation and ecotourism nationally and regionally and to promote ecotourism and other sustainable development programmes in Palestine through local communities and travel agencies.